Creating Reliable and Diverse Community Food Systems in Southwest Washington
Featuring Jesse Honiker, General Manager of the Southwest Washington Food Hub
The Southwest Washington Food Hub is tackling food insecurity and rural hunger issues by strengthening the region’s community food systems and economies. The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need to create reliable and diverse food systems. By generating institutional buy-in to empower local economies, the Southwest Washington Food Hub is creating opportunities for a reliable and sustainable food system that can support families well beyond this pandemic.
How has COVID-19 impacted food insecurity in Southwest Washington?
Hunger has always been a part of our rural and urban communities here in the South Puget Sound area. Pre-pandemic 1 in 8 Washingtonians were experiencing food insecurity. Safety nets like food banks and soup kitchens provided hunger relief to roughly one million Washingtonians in 2019. While we currently don’t understand the full impact of food insecurity in the state, here is what the experts are reporting, “There has been an enormous crisis this year,” said Katie Rains, food assistance specialist for the Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA). “To put it in perspective, in the previous state fiscal year ending in June 2019, 1.12 million Washingtonians sought food assistance from programs across the state. In contrast, the current model shows 2.2 million people are currently food insecure in Washington state.” Models are predicting by the end of the year 1 in 5 Washington state residents will be food insecure.
The cooperatively held Southwest Washington Food Hub (SWWA Food Hub) is working to combat hunger in the local community by providing weekly produce packed locally grown food boxes to those most vulnerable. In partnership with Washington State Department of Agriculture, SWWA Food Hub is providing weekly food boxes to those most affected in Thurston, Lewis, Pacific, Mason, and Grays Harbor county. For the WSDA supporting projects like the Food Hub’s Food Security Boxes is one facet of the agency’s overall COVID-19 adaptive emergency food security response. For the cooperative farmers within the Food Hub, it is a source of pride to be able to support our community by providing healthy and nutritious produce. COVID-19 has revealed many issues along our national food supply chain; we believe by providing locally sourced high nutritious food to our community, we can support local business, local people, and overall community health in this time of crisis.
What are Regional Agricultural Development Partnerships? How are you forming them?
The Regional Agricultural Development Partnerships encompass a group of agricultural organizations, cities, counties, Ports, educational institutions, and others committed to the spirit and practice of cooperation with the aim of employing a strategic, systems approach to advance agriculture throughout the South Puget Sound region. The vision for this collaborative approach to strategic planning is to promote regional agricultural viability. This is understood to be a vibrant agricultural economy sustained by diverse and high-value markets, access to necessary infrastructure for production and marketing, a stable land base, a high level of consumer awareness and commitment, a compatible regulatory landscape, living wages, and access to support services.
How do consumers and producers benefit from your website?
The Southwest Washington Food Hub Cooperative supports the relationship between regional farmers and their customers, enabling a values-based supply chain for food safety and transparency. We maintain seller eligibility requirements and quality standards while preserving the producer’s identity from “purchase to delivery” so that the producers’ customers know the story of who, how and where their food was grown.
From field to plate, our cooperative food hub model helps support farmers, buyers, the environment, and the community at large.
For Farmers, our Food Hub model:
- Opens up new markets for farmers to deal directly with businesses and institutional buyers who seek local products, and who purchase large volumes of food, but typically do not have the time to shop at farmers markets or farm stands.
- Provides shared marketing and infrastructure for local farms to increase sales and reduce labor costs and food waste.
- Empowers farmers to develop and maintain direct customer relationships, negotiate their own prices and nurture business growth for their own farms. They do not hand over their customers, or steep margins, to a third-party.
- Transparent from field to kitchen: products are never mixed or combined with other farmer’s products. Farms own their product through the supply chain: their production methods are transparent and food is traceable to the farm. Food isn’t treated like a commodity. It’s not a warehouse store selling nameless, faceless “local” food.
For Buyers, our Food Hub model allows:
- Ordering from the field! Food is fresher than any typical distributor’s offerings. Fresh produce is often picked the day before it reaches the customer. It’s ripe, in season and oh-so-delicious!
- Buyers have access to greater varieties of vegetables, fruits, livestock breeds that are atypical in the commodity market and highly prized for flavor (and not whether it holds up in cold storage or not!).
- Convenience for buyers to source fresher, more nutritious and better tasting products direct from local farms with an online marketplace, streamlined payment options and one food-safe, aggregated delivery to their door.
For the Environment, our Food Hub Model offers:
- Travel distances that are shortened compared to the typical broad line distributors which significantly decreases carbon emissions. Producer farms operate within the 5 counties of southwest Washington including: Thurston, Mason, Grey’s Harbor, Pierce, and Lewis.
- Consolidated cold storage space uses less energy.
- Supporting local farms will help them move away from synthetic fertilizers and encourage them to integrate more organic growing practices which often require higher labor costs.
For the The Community, purchasing local food…
- Supports local farms by providing them and their workers a livable wage
- Increases our region’s food security
- Protects the environment
- Creates jobs and boosts the local economy
- Keeps the community at large healthier by consuming more nutrient-rich food!
All In WA is a coordinated, statewide relief effort powered by a coalition of philanthropic and community leaders, companies, community foundations, United Way organizations, frontline nonprofits, individuals, and public officials across Washington state. Southwest Washington Food Hub is supported by the Community Foundation of South Puget Sound, a community partner of All In WA. To learn more and support community initiatives, please visit allinwa.org.